How to Remove Musty Odors From Towels

person smelling towels

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 mins
  • Total Time: 3 - 6 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $5

If your towels have a musty odor even after they’ve been washed, it’s time to take some additional cleaning steps. Smelly towels can be harboring mildew and other pathogens that could have adverse affects on one's health. Here’s how to remedy this problem and prevent towel odors from recurring.

how to prevent musty towel odors

The Spruce / Ashley Nicole DeLeon

Stain type Mildew
Detergent type Vinegar and baking soda
Water temperature Hot
Cycle type Normal

Before You Begin

Musty towel smell is the same issue that happens when mop heads or cleaning sponges don't dry thoroughly between uses. A warm, moist environment is conducive to fungal and bacterial growth. And all it can take is leaving a damp towel balled up in a laundry basket or on the floor of the bathroom. Thus, hanging a towel to allow air to circulate and dry it after every use is the best way to prevent odors.

0:44

Click Play to Learn How to Easily Get Rid of Musty Towel Odors

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Clothesline
  • Tennis balls or felted wool dryer balls (Optional)

Materials

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Vinegar

Instructions

tools for removing musty towel odors

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

How to Remove Musty Odors from Towels

Sometimes even when you are trying to prevent odors, your towels can still end up smelling a little off. If this occurs, try these tips.

  1. Machine Wash With Vinegar

    Run your towels through a regular cycle with very warm or hot water, your regular detergent, and 1/2 to 1 cup of vinegar as a natural fabric softener for the rinse cycle.

    person adding vinegar to the washer compartment
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 
  2. Machine Wash With Baking Soda

    Run the towels through the regular cycle again, this time using only a half cup of baking soda and no detergent or fabric softener. Just the baking soda should do the trick.

    person adding baking soda to the washing machine
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu
  3. Dry Your Towels

    Once you have done the vinegar and baking soda treatment, you need to dry your towels. Many swear by the fact that line-dried items smell fresher, though they often do not feel as soft. One way to have the best of both worlds is to do both.

    Toss towels in the dryer with one or two new or very clean tennis balls or felted wool dryer balls. The balls will fluff up the towels and make them softer.

    towels in the dryer with dryer balls
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu
  4. Hang Towels to Dry

    Allow your towel to air-dry fully off the floor—dampness is the number one culprit of musty odors.

    person hanging a towel on a rack

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

Tips for Keeping Towels Odor-Free

Since dampness is a huge factor in towel odors, find out which family member is the culprit of leaving towels wet or on the floor. One way to get compliance with towel hanging is to assign each person in the house their own color-coded towels. You can figure out who is causing the towel infraction by noticing the color of the towel wadded up on the floor. Work with the person to develop the habit of hanging their towel after each use.

It is also important to switch towels quickly from the washing machine to the dryer. Clean your lint filter regularly to make sure your dryer is running as efficiently as possible. If you notice that it takes a long time to dry towels, you might have a problem with your washing machine leaving too much water in them or with your dryer.

Also, just like dishwashers and other regularly used appliances, your washing machine needs a good cleaning every now and then. Fortunately, washing the washer is pretty easy, as the appliance does most of the work for you. If you regularly wash your whites with chlorine bleach, then that is sufficient for cleaning your washing machine. But if you forego the use of bleach, then periodically do a wash cycle with 4 cups of white vinegar on hot for the longest wash cycle.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Twumwaa H, Asumang B, Imoro ZA, Kpordze SW. Toothbrush and towel handling and their microbial quality: The case of students of university for development studies, Nyankpala campus, Ghana. Afr J Infect Dis., vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 41-46 2020. doi:10.21010/ajid.v15i1.5